What do you get when one of the stars of DC’s television show Arrow tries to crowdfund a low rent X-Men movie into existence? The answer is Code 8, a somewhat futuristic movie brought to us by Jeff Chan and cousins Robbie Amell and Stephen Amell. This is one of those movies that started as a short film, which was basically a demo to show investors to get enough money to produce a feature film version. Now, this idea is nothing new and has been successful in the past, but more often than not, you end up with stuff like Josh Baker’s Kin, a project that comes across more like a half-assed television pilot than it does a movie.
The story of Code 8 exists in one of those “alternative worlds” where super-powered people have existed for quite some time, but in a complete twist on this, we learn that at one time these “power-enabled” citizens were considered valued members of society, using their remarkable abilities to practically build cities on their own. Now, though, with the advent of automation, these gifted individuals have quickly become the unemployed minorities of the world. And why is this, you ask? Well, if you have robot assembly lines, who needs a guy who is strong enough to pick up a truck? It’s this basic premise that I had the hardest time swallowing because no matter how impressive a robotic assembly line is, I simply can’t believe a man who can create lightning or one who can pick up a half-ton concrete divider with his bare hands would find themselves standing outside the local Home Depot begging for menial labour jobs.
The film rolls out the old “God Loves, Man Kills” element from the Chris Claremont run of the X-Men comics, with much of society being afraid of these super-powered people, but then it also expects us to believe in the idea that Joe Average was once cool with powered people building skyscrapers and spot welding their cars with just the touch of a finger and that it took advent of automation to make them afraid of them. I’m sure a good science fiction writer could have made this work, but even the best writer would have been challenged to work such an idea into a 98-minute movie as it takes time to do proper world-building (certainly more than the ten minutes this movie provides). In Code 8, Jeff Chan and screenwriter Chris Pare have neither the skill nor the time to pull off such a feat, and thus, it feels like one of those television pilots that will never get picked up.
The “hero” of this story is Connor Reed (Robbie Amell ), a man gifted with the ability to channel great levels of electricity through his hands. Being a marginalized superhero is bad enough, but he also must deal with his mother (Kari Matchett) who is dying, and with the medical bills piling up, Connor must make some tough choices. This leads to him becoming desperate enough to work for the likes of Garrett (Stephen Amell), a man who runs a super-powered heist crew, who in turn is working for a small-time drug lord, Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk). This little organization has been dealing with a dangerous new drug called “Psyke” which is created from tapping the spinal fluid of the psychically empowered. The movie never gets around to explaining whether or not those people being harvested for their spinal fluids are victims or if they are simply selling it to survive in a world that has turned its back on them, but what this film also fails to do is give us some idea as to where Connor sits when it comes to the idea of his kind being exploited for a designer drug. In fact, we never see Connor having any sort of qualms about his “jobs” facilitating the manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs. This tends to make him a less than a relatable hero and having him state that he doesn’t want any killings on one of their jobs does not make him a good person.
Chris Crane’s production design and Playfight’s visual effects give us a surprisingly well-built “futuristic society” on what was obviously a small budget and what money the producers managed to collect is all there on screen, with robot police called “Guardians” being airdropped by large drones that constantly patrol the city creating a visceral and scary world. Unfortunately, all the cool bells and whistles in the world can’t help a film that seems bereft of original ideas. We briefly hear of a shadowy evil organization called “The Trust,” but that’s something for the sequel — haha, good luck with that guys — as the bulk of the film’s run-time deals with Connor pissing and moaning about his sad lot in life and his dying mom. The villainous Sutcliffe couldn’t have been a bigger stereotype if they’d shown him tying women to railway tracks, and Stephen Amell’s telekinetic crew leader had about as much depth as a puddle in the heart of the Sahara Desert. This film is just chock full of characters one couldn’t care less about, and Garret’s crew of super-powered misfits leads the charge in that category. Then we have Sutcliffe and his cronies, one of which has the ability to heal with a touch — this character also has a backstory so bland and cliché that she’s almost immediately forgettable whenever she’s not on screen — and then there are the two cops hot on Connor’s tail, him being the only few Class 5 Electric powered meta-humans around, and thus, their only suspect. With all these characters to introduce and explain — or not explain — who they are and what their powers are isn’t given time to develop properly and as a result, everything seems kind of short shifted. Even the cool Guardian police robots, that look like they were lifted from Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction film Chappie, are wasted in this film. I’m actually surprised we didn’t get any cybernetic Robocops in this film.
Code 8 isn’t a terrible film, and it was clearly a labour of love from those behind the production, but overall, a film can only be judged by the end result, which in this case was a basic paint-by-numbers actioner that lives and breathes every cliché in the book. Now, will this make enough money to kick-start a sequel or that promised television series? Who knows? And I doubt many will lose sleep over it. Thus, I can only recommend this film to die-hard Stephen Amell fans. I know you’re out there.
Code 8 (2019)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
Jeff Chan, Robbie Amell and Stephen Amell give it the old college try with this attempt at cracking into the overpopulated superhero genre, and Code 8 isn’t even the worst of its kind but it’s most likely to become one of the many forgotten.